John P. Nordhaus, father of Gazette Chicago assistant editor
December 6, 2019

John Nordhaus

John P. Nordhaus, father of Gazette Chicago Assistant Editor Anne Nordhaus-Bike and father-in-law of Associate Editor William S. Bike, passed away earlier this year at age 98.

An aerospace engineer, Mr. Nordhaus is sole inventor on three patents: an entrapped gas ejector arrangement for aircraft store racks; an emergency remover device for ejecting aircraft canopies; and a mechanically actuated laser initiator.

Along with colleagues at Scot. Inc. and Elematic Instrument Corp., he also invented and held patents on another ejector arrangement for aircraft store racks and for a flowmeter.

“The gas actuated invention was for ordnance racks,” explained his son, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Paul Nordhaus, United States Air Force. “Every fighter plane produced in the 1970s and 1980s carried this technology.

“My father loved to read and he always wanted to keep up with the news, so he enjoyed reading Gazette Chicago,” daughter Anne Nordhaus-Bike said.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he and his first wife, Olga (“Ollie”), lived in a home he built in Northbrook, IL, and they were among a group of members of the Unitarian faith who founded the North Shore Unitarian Church.

Ollie Tschirley Nordhaus passed away in 1959. The couple had four children: Peter, Shelley, Anne, and Beth.

In 1960, he married the former Helen Clark. The couple had three children: Paul, Carol, and Joyce, and all seven children were reared in the home he had built in Northbrook. They were married for 53 years, until Helen Clark Nordhaus passed away in 2013.

Along with being an active Unitarian, Mr. Nordhaus’s spiritual and intellectual life included the Rosicrucian Order, an organization studying metaphysics, mysticism, and philosophy, and the Theosophical Society, an organization studying world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts.

“Our family had great discussions about philosophy, religion, and a wide range of events,” Nordhaus-Bike said. “A favorite piece of advice he often gave after discussing a topic was, ‘Take that into your meditation.’”

Mr. Nordhaus is survived by all of his children, and eight grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Austin Special Chicago, 5414 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL 60639, www.austinspecial.org.


Eulogy:

Thank you everyone for coming today to honor my father-in-law, John Nordhaus. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Bill Bike, husband of Anne Nordhaus-Bike, one of John’s daughters.

When I thought about John, two words came to mind: head and heart. A brilliant man and an intellectual, he was often in his head. A loving and caring man, he had a lot of heart, too.

His son Paul said that John, quote, taught me to be curious about the world and how things work, and that curiosity has guided my life.

John’s curiosity at a young age led him to graduate high school in an era when not everyone did, and to go to college at a time when few people did. His head guided him there.

Volunteering for the Army in World War II was a matter of both head and heart. His head told him that his country needed him. His heart told him that his service would be an experience shared by almost all of the men in his generation, and he wouldn’t want to miss it.

While overseas in Europe, he put together a little picture book about the Pilsen area of Czeckoslovakia, so even in the midst of war, he needed to follow the intellectual pursuit of creating a book.

His marriage to Olga “Ollie” Tschirley was both a matter of heart and head. His heart told her he loved her; his head told him that a woman who had attended several colleges in an era in which few women did would be a good intellectual match for him.

Moving to Northbrook in the late 1940s, his heart told him to create a home for his future family, but of course his head told him to actually build it himself—which he could do, because he pretty much could build or fix anything.

Being active in a faith is a matter of the heart, but his head told him to choose that most intellectual of religions, the Unitarian Church.

In 1953, he was one of the founding members of a new Unitarian Fellowship on the North Shore. That fellowship became the North Shore Unitarian Church, and John Nordhaus was one of its founding fathers.

His heart was broken when Ollie passed away in 1959. That was an era in which widowers were advised to send children to live with relatives. His heart could not accept that advice. He loved Peter, Shelley, Anne, and Jess and would not consider parting from them. His head told him that he needed help, so he brought in Ollie’s sister, Nelda, to take care of the children.

A year later, his heart led him to Helen Clark, who would become his wife in a marriage that lasted for 53 years. John and Helen had three children of their own, Paul, Carol, and Joyce, and all seven children grew up in the house he loved.

It was a house filled with music. The children all had music lessons and sang in choirs as John and Helen did, but more fun was when John sat around playing his guitar on Saturday nights with the children singing along with him to his music. As Shelley said, “I loved his beautiful bass voice. I think he had the best bass voice of any man I know.”

It was a house filled with food. I found it odd when I first started going to the house in Northbrook that John was right there in the kitchen cooking food. Where I came from, the women were in the kitchen and the men were in the living room. He took such delight in being part of the meal preparation, that I know his heart sang whenever he could be in the kitchen.

The food that he, Helen, and the rest of you prepared, by the way, was fantastic. Anne tells me that every Saturday when you were kids was homemade bread day. Sorry I missed it!

It was a house filled with thought. Both John and Helen believed deeply in education and in intellectual discussions with their children. For John, they were a matter of both head and heart as intellectual discussions often led to spiritual ones, as he was a member of the Rosicrucian Order and the Theosophical Society.

As Anne said, “Our family had great discussions about philosophy, religion, and a wide range of events. A favorite piece of advice he often gave after discussing a topic was, ‘Take that into your meditation.’”

Speaking of seeking knowledge, I know that John and Jess in particular fought over the Sunday newspaper because they were both eager to get the latest news, and particularly the crossword puzzle

When John and Helen were younger and had the strength and energy to keep up their garden, it was beautiful. John’s head told him to make the garden beautiful, and his heart was happy when it was. The school bus parked in the back didn’t help, but it was an example of his quirky nature.

Helen and John’s love of fine dining, fine wine, fishing, and entertainment was a matter of head and heart. In John’s head he knew there had to be a balance of work and fun, and in his heart he loved the finer things in life and wanted to show Helen he loved her. As Joyce said, John taught the kids to show people how much you loved them. As Carol said, for John and Helen, fishing, like gardening, is where God lives.

Even John’s work was a matter of head and heart. Being an aerospace engineer appealed to his intellect—what he did really was rocket science. His being the sole inventor on three patents and a co-inventor on two shows an intellect that I wouldn’t even try to match.

But his inventions showed heart, too, in that they made people safer and saved lives. Thanks to John, military aircraft could drop their payloads with much more safety for the pilots, and crew could eject much more safely as well. The technology of his inventions was applied to auto airbag technology, so literally every person in the world in a car is safer because of John Nordhaus. As Paul said, John’s inventions saved lives. Wow!

We all know how he loved his work. I dropped by the house early one New Year’s Day morning while he was making breakfast. He told me he was going to go in to work that day just as Helen was coming into the kitchen. Let me just say that she wasn’t too happy about it.

And he loved all his kids. A quirky thing I observed about John is that he was proud of all of you, but seldom if ever said that to your faces. But he would brag about you to others. So I heard about all the good things you were accomplishing, and so did his other friends and family, even if you didn’t.

John and Helen took great care of Peter when he was at home, and made great arrangements for Peter’s lifelong care at Austin Special. That was perhaps the best example of their heads and hearts working together. Their hearts wanted Pete at home, but their heads had them make the very best arrangements possible for his well-being.

He loved his grandchildren, too. You may not have had much contact with him in recent years in his ancient age, but I know personally that he was proud of every one of you. That goes for us spouses and significant others, too.

John tried to give good advice. Sometimes it didn’t hit the mark—Anne and I still laugh about his advice to her to become a bricklayer. But often it did. Shelley still mentions John’s advice of letting hurt feelings go and not caring what other people think. That was good advice.

And he loved other people. That’s why he and Helen allowed the house in Northbrook to be a haven for everyone who needed a place to go. Civil Air Patrol people, Air Force people, kids who weren’t getting along with their parents. Wounded souls of all types were always welcome at the Nordhaus house.

That sometimes resulted in the kids being kicked out of their bedrooms, which wasn’t very popular with the kids, but in making their home a haven, John and Helen’s heart was in the right place. And I was certainly impressed that you could go by the Nordhaus house any hour of the day or night and would always be welcome.

After John’s passing, many of the kids’ friends have commented on how welcome they felt in your home. Anne’s friend Ruth remembers that John’s nickname for her was “Three Pound Oatmeal.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds fun, anyway.

John could pretty much get along with anybody. While my mother, a homemaker who never finished high school, liked Helen, a college graduate and businesswoman, they never had much to talk about.

But when my dad, a truck driver, and John, an aerospace engineer, got together, they had the Great Depression and World War II to talk about, and my dad really enjoyed John’s company. In fact, when John came down with dementia and could no longer hold a conversation, that’s when my dad quit coming to Nordhaus family gatherings. Without John to talk with, there was just no point.

John would sometimes get pensive about the fact that his hero, Governor Adlai Stevenson, never got to be president of the United States because he was beaten by Dwight Eisenhower. My dad liked to needle John by telling him that he liked Ike, so they had fun together.
Before I conclude, I’d like to give a special thank you to Joyce, who was in charge of dealing with John and Helen’s financial and health affairs in their last years. Joyce, you did a great job in helping get them to heaven. Carol, thanks for singing to him, Shelley, Paul, and Anne, thanks for visiting him, and everyone, thanks for keeping him in your heads and hearts.

Now, up in heaven, where there is nothing but love, John is having fun with his parents, his siblings, Ollie, Helen, and maybe even Adlai Stevenson. His head is at rest. His heart, however, is full of love.

For the rest of our lives, the interesting facts of John Nordhaus’s life will be something we can think about in our heads. And for the rest of our lives, he will continue to live in our hearts as well. Thank you.